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St. Francis Farm 
December 2018   

         This fall September stayed hot and humid, October turned cold and wet, and November is continuing the same. We took one golden day in the Adirondacks, paddling the Moose River and picnicking on its banks. We fitted in the outdoor work as well as we could and got out for walks in the brief periods when the sun shone or the stars were visible. While natural disasters pile up and refugees flee from wars and famine, our country and even our churches seem unable to agree on basic facts or work together to solve problems. Trying to keep my balance in the chaos of this time, I read a quote from St. Francis— "What is it that stands higher than words? Action. What is it that stands higher than action? Silence.”

            So I take heart in the work of the farm, the blessings that can be shared, and the silence where all of it rests in God’s loving hands. Joanna keeps bringing in the harvest and we take some to the Community Cupboard in Pulaski, send some to the soup kitchen in Lacona. Zachary takes a basket of farm produce to the man who needed a wheelchair ramp and help with odd jobs. Our gleaner is especially glad to take garlic for its health benefits as well as flavor. Another friend takes herbs and vegetables to juice now that he can’t eat much solid food. In glass jars I make
 tiny woods gardens with Christmas fern, partridgeberry, sweet woodruff, various mosses and colorful fungi on twigs—one for me and one for Marge.

            Visitors still find the farm a place of peace. Some walk with us, enjoying the sound of the brook and discovering hidden corners of the farm. Donna likes to sing country songs while Joanna plays guitar and Zach plays banjo. Marge borrows books and enjoys nature walks and fiddle tunes. Emily plays the cello for us. Hope brings supper and stories, takes home elderberry pie and ricotta cheese. Sarah compares gardening notes with Jo and gets woodworking help from Zach. Sam and Stella, here to pick up a washtub bass and a marimbula Zach had built for them, shared lunch and stories about their ministry in Tennessee. Kelly stopped by with stories about her summer interning on a farm in Oregon and plans to help with community gardens and train to do literacy work. Nate writes from Missoula that he’s discovering the joys of working with his hands to earn his living and is visiting Bitterroot Catholic Worker Farm to help out on weekends. Tom wrote from NYC that he’s planting our garlic in his reclaimed garden and that he shared my jar of dried lavender and balsam fir with a woman in emotional distress. “Do few things but do them well, simple joys are holy,” Francis of Assisi tells us.

            This year again we count our blessings, what we’ve been given and what we’ve been able to give. As the days grow short and the wind rises and the rain mixes with sleet and snow, we are aware of mistakes made, opportunities missed, the puniness of our efforts and abilities. In the midst of the darkness, Advent begins, reminding us "All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." ~ Francis of Assisi  -
-by Lorraine

Sedan Chair and Chariot           by Marge

         It gives me a great deal of personal pleasure to have the opportunity to write about a most enjoyable experience at St. Francis Farm. I will pluralize the word ‘experience’ because it has occurred several times, and I’m beginning to feel as though I should invest in a tiara or a turban at least to justify the way I feel.  

        Not long ago, (sounds like the beginning of a fairy  tale) my good friends at the farm put their heads together and devised a sedan chair. At least that’s what we called it. This chair, a canvas affair, was mounted about midway between two long poles (which may have been stilts). My two lovely friends Joanna and Zach positioned themselves, one at each end between the poles, and as soon as I seated myself properly, we ‘lifted off.’ I think I may have let out at least a moderately loud ‘whoop,’ for I did feel like I was  part whooping crane! But what a lovely ride! Of course, previous to my visit to the farm Zach had been industriously mowing the perimeters around and through areas for our passage. I couldn’t help but feel as if I weighed at least 500 pounds. It was quite laborious for them I’m sure, but the smiles never left their sweet faces! God bless them both.  

        It seems that an accumulation of various odds and ends were being saved for who knows what, and sure enough an ‘ingenious craftsman’ one day retrieved from this collection an old axle with a pair of wheels with tires, a long hollow pipe, and who knows what else. So with much labor, pondering, measuring, cutting and welding the chariot was born.  

        It was a very comfortable arrangement with a padded back on the seat. The arms are very sturdy and were made with new lumber and sanded to a satin smoothness and there is even a foot rest. The long pipe runs along under the arm of the chair and extends for maybe eight feet or so—then a shorter piece is welded on at a 90-degree angle and thus serves as a steering device for the Charioteer himself!     

     And what a lovely ride through the beautiful forest—past ponds and along streams and beautiful growing things. I feel as though all this was shared with me as a gift, for me to keep and remember for always. I was and still am and always will be overwhelmed by the loving care and time.

Community and Connection           by Joanna 

            St. Paul reminds us that “we are members one of another.” I believe this, though I am discouraged by how often we forget this and do each other harm. November’s short gray days make it easier for me to focus on what is wrong in my soul and my community and my neighborhood, and the cold wet weather drives me inside to work near the radio with its  constant reminders of suffering and injustice. But Thanksgiving reminds us to look at the things that are true, honest, just, pure and lovely, and Advent reminds us that the light shines in darkness and is not extinguished. In our midwinter reflection time we may discern ways to foster more constructive connections.
           
At monthly meetings of the Pulaski Community Services Task Force, people from different local helping organizations come together to talk about our work, the resources we’re aware of, and the needs we don’t know how to meet. So many problems seem intractable: the lack of emergency shelters, of long-term affordable housing, and of public transportation; the lengthening wait times for people struggling with mental health issues; the rapidly rising rate of addiction. We make progress in small ways. Often some groups are trying to get the word out about their services while others offering similar services are swamped with requests for help; people from those groups consider how they can share the load. Connections made at these meetings have helped me find actual help for neighbors struggling with high medical bills or with mental illness. I don’t know if we can find ways to work together on any of the larger issues that continue to frustrate us all.
           
This November my usual discouragement with the news has been compounded by the fear-mongering language around the election. People all across the political spectrum agreed that something shameful and terrible would happen if the Wrong People won. I am ashamed of my country treating asylum seekers as menacing invaders rather than neighbors in need of help, and ashamed of the spread of ugly racial rhetoric. I am afraid of the disasters caused by escalating climate change, afraid of the increase in hate crimes, and afraid of how easily we believe that the people who disagree with us are not only wrong but also evil and inferior. 
           Once again, the larger problem can seem hopeless, but some small lights are visible in the dark. This fall I joined an online group of American women committed to respectful dialogue. We came from different races, different classes and very different ideologies. Our conversations were often messy and uncomfortable—especially around race, immigration, and the Kavanaugh hearings--but they were conversations not shouting matches. When things became tense the moderators reminded us to listen, ask open-ended questions, and speak about the experiences which shaped our convictions. I don’t think positions were changed, but I think we managed to see the pain and the goodness in people with whom we disagreed passionately. Seeing this doesn’t resolve our problems, but it gives us a better basis for coping with them constructively. That online forum shut down soon after the midterms. Here at the farm we’re considering whether it’s possible to bring local people together for this kind of listening, discussing our differences openly while seeing and strengthening the light in each other.

Zach's Work               

            This rainy fall has put me behind where I had hoped to be. ARISE asked me to build three ramps this summer while I was shingling the barn roof. In September I was caught up enough on farm jobs to build ramps. The first took a day and a half to build since the house was further off the ground so the ramp had to be longer, but the last two were easy one-day jobs. One of the ramps is for someone who lives alone, and I have gone a couple of times to do small jobs there and will go again to shovel the roof if we get a lot of snow this winter.           During October I got back to building the new sugar house, which I had begun in March. All I had left was to frame and cover the end wall, build the door and put in the window, put up the battens, fascia boards and soffits and build and install the cupola doors. Once the building was done I cut firewood to stack inside it for next spring. I got some ash tops from trees I cut a couple of years ago, and that wood should be ready to burn once it has been inside over the winter.
           
My other October project was to tear down and rebuild the auxiliary woodshed in the corner by the main woodshed. I built this about 12 years ago to store firewood for summer use in the boiler to provide domestic hot water. It had an almost flat roof because the main woodshed eaves came down to it on two sides and one of the other sides is the wall of the barn we live in. I have had trouble with this roof leaking from time to time. I redesigned the roof so that the top of it runs up to the top of the corridor roof of the woodshed, which gives it a 3/12 pitch or so. The main woodshed roof is still much steeper, but I think it should keep the water out much better. I also have built new doors and a new little piece of wall-- the other three sides are still formed by existing buildings. As I write in mid-November I’ve begun filling the rebuilt shed and hope to have it full in another week or so.
           
While it’s been raining so much I have been cleaning up in the outbuildings, a fairly endless task that seems to be slowly making a difference. It was a pleasant surprise this fall when I took a close look at the boiler chimney and found that it actually doesn’t seem to need anything done to it, at least not right away. The clay flue has cracked where it sticks up beyond the blocks, but the damage doesn’t seem to extend down inside the chimney.
           
 I had to take the chain saw to House Trucking again for engine work. It was rebuilt in the spring of 2011, but given how much work it does seven and a half years seems like a pretty good run. I bought a cheap piston and cylinder set online and put them in myself but was not successful. When I took it to House they were able to use that cylinder and just put in a higher quality piston. In August I bought a package deal of 5 Gravely two-wheel walk behind tractors and several implements. I have sold both of the walk behind sickle bar mowers I had bought before and am hoping to get two or three of the Gravelys running by spring. I think they’ll be handy for mowing in the orchard and pastures and for blowing snow.

Agriculture Update     by Joanna

Through late October and early November I scurried to get crops in and beds cleared and mulched between showers. Now the rain has turned to snow, the harvest is in, the ‘winter garden’ in our greenhouse is thriving, and I have time to look back on the frustrations and satisfactions of the growing season and to give thanks.
           
When the September newsletter went out I was glad for rain after a dry spring and early summer. The rain spurred growth in both vegetables and funguses that attack them. The tomato plants died of fungal diseases, but not until we’d canned 81 quarts and dried 19 for ourselves and given lots of tomatoes away. The cukes and squash bore heavily and then succumbed to powdery mildew in September. Onions should sit in a dry airy place for two weeks after harvest, but this year high humidity hindered curing. We gave away or chopped and froze what needed to be used quickly and stored the others in the attic as usual. The bush beans had fungal problems, but we canned all we wanted, and Kevin and Billie Joe came and picked after that. We grew a mix of pole bean varieties on a net behind the new barn; those stayed fungus-free, and we enjoyed their different shapes and colors.
           
Some crops simply throve. We had all the peppers, lettuce, chard and kale we wanted for our own use and plenty to share. Three hundred pounds of potatoes are stored in our root cellar and pantry. We packed nine 5-gallon pails with carrots for the winter, sent carrots with all the visitors who were willing to take them, and sent the rest to the Lacona soup kitchen. This was our best year yet for broccoli; our new variety, Gypsy, tolerated weather fluctuations well, giving us good main heads and plenty of side shoots. The eggplant bore heavily in the sustained heat of August and September and kept going until we had a hard freeze. We ate eggplant sandwiches every week, put eggplant into stir-fries and casseroles, froze 44 eggplants, and gave eggplants to everyone who’d take them.
           
We didn’t get the rabbit litters we expected this fall; one doe wouldn’t breed in the heat, the other had only one kit. I’m not sure if they were suffering from heat sterility or if I’d let them get too fat. (It’s amazing how much weight rabbits can put on when they’re just eating fresh green stuff and hay.) I’m keeping a closer eye on their weights now and we’ll try again in spring. The goats’ mange has cleared up and they are giving us enough milk for cheese- making. Changing seasons affects milkfat and acidity, requiring me to adjust my mozzarella recipe—we had one batch of gelatinous ‘cheese product’ that was neither sliceable nor grateable, though it tasted good in lasagna. I asked advice online, and my last couple of mozzarellas turned out well. Bandit the pig grew well, though not quite as large as her predecessor. Our pullets started laying eggs late in August, and now we have plenty for our own use and some to give away. Even on days of pouring rain or wet snow the hens are out in the yard pecking and scratching.
           
 I hope to improve some things next year, but overall I am grateful for good work and all those who have helped with it, for good food and for all those who have enjoyed it. 

Please and Thank You

Please help us with our mailing lists--let us know if you want to change how you receive your newsletter (email or paper) or if you want us to stop sending it to you. You can also help us with our annual review and planning by providing feedback on our newsletters, website and Facebook page. This winter we look forward to hearing from our gleaners about their memories of the farm from the 1990‘s. We’d welcome your perspective on our mission and your stories of your history with the farm.

Thanks to all who have supported the farm with your presence, prayers and donations. Please let us know if you need a record of donations for tax purposes. 

We hope that, however you celebrate the holy days, you will take some time for silence, get out some nights to look at the stars, make some music with family or friends, light candles and tell old stories. You don’t need an Advent wreath or the ‘right’ color candles. We just need to stop sometimes and let the stress and hurry and worry fall away so we can hear the still, small voice saying “be not afraid”. 

“Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously."

 --Francis of Assisi